This blog is devoted to my architectural sketching adventures and musings about the integration of architecture and sketching.
I hope not only to share my own on-location architectural sketches but provide tips and methodologies for sketching and understanding architecture.
Also, most importantly, I wish to explore ways in which, in a digital age, we can not only defend but
promote freehand sketching within the architectural profession.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why do I sketch so fast?

This is a complete cross post from my other blog - but as it is so relevant to sketching architecture - I add it here as well.

I just thought I would expand a little on something that I mentioned in my review of James Richard's book... and that has to do with sketching fast.... warning this blog post is long!

I know that I do sketch a lot and that I do sketch fast, at times very fast... but it is not my goal to sketch fast - in fact I do want to slow down but it just seems that when I am out on location, my creative juices start pumping and I just can't stop! I am not in any way advocating my approach for others but simply explaining that that is the way I am, the way I sketch... that I am not trying to create finished or perfect pieces and that I most of all have an incredible amount of fun sketching non stop!

A huge part of this is my foundational sketching as an architect. I know that I have mentioned this before...but the more I think about it myself, the more significant I realise it is. Firstly, I have never really had any art training - I have never sat in an art studio and laboured over making the perfect pencil sketch. BUT I have used up reams and reams of butter paper over the years sketching as part of my work as an architect.

Sketching is the way that I think, that I resolve issues, design and create solutions for imagined worlds and spaces. When I am designing, my approach is to draw non stop - often testing out ideas rapidly- trying to draw as fast as I can think - having an incredibly dynamic and stimulating dialogue  between hand eye and mind. The hand moves, the eye sees the imperfect linework and the mind asks "what if?"

It is the imperfection of the ability of the hand to depict what is in the mind that often leads to new ideas. And when through the copious scribblings, a solution appears on the page, the excitement and creative thrill of that moment is something really special. What keeps me doing architecture!

There is also a lovely freedom in my sketches, my linework and shading (often cross hatching is a reflex action while concentrating on a problem, more recently watercolor pencil) that comes when I am focussing on the design problem and not thinking about my sketching. Often these sketches done while I am designing are far stronger than the neat ones I prepare for the client once the design is more finalised.

Although the notes in this sketch is  more about process vs product, the thoughts are running along the same lines and another example of my work thinking sketches.

When I started sketching from observation I found it really hard work - I had to set up perspective lines and train my eye hand coordination. But for some reason when I started sketching out on location things started to change- there was so many other things to worry about other than just doing a good sketch - comfort, distraction, moving light and weather changing. Fundamentally I am a very responsive person - I respond to things around me- and these external conditions made my work a little less in control and I started taking risks. I just can't be neat when I am uncomfortable or hungry - it shows in my lines!  In many ways this was like my design sketching.

I then realised that what I really wanted to achieve was the freedom, spontaneity and creative buzz that I got from my design sketching. I started working on achieving this.... and naturally the speed has come as a secondary aspect to that. An example is my pencil setup lines- I do just enough to compose the image on the page and then sketch in ink as if there was no setup lines.

I often tell people that my sketching is all about capturing the moment but it is in fact the moment of discovery that is the key. I see something, I study and discover and then I have the urge to record that - regardless of whether it is really practical in the time that I have... I just go for it.

I am an obsessive recorder and therefore I have to strategise how to record this discovery in the time that I have. Having a strong focus of what I initially responded to is key(here it was the roof) . So it is trying to record the discovery - not to sketch fast for the sake of going fast - that sets the agenda!

I am not trying to make beautiful works of art in my sketchbooks - I am trying to record my creative journey and I do that through recording my life through my sketches. Although there is a certain element of design to my pages (and yes I am a bit obsessive about writing neatly) I do see my sketchbook more as a working book, a journal that an art book. I do create more careful works at home including commissions for architectural illustrations (there will be more details of this work on my blog soon!) but my sketchbook is my space to record and to test and to experiment. In many ways I view my work in my sketchbook as glorified thumbnails.

Also, this joy in the moment of discovery does not need to always mean fast sketches. This sketch was done when I was in a very chilled mood but I was experimenting and got an incredible buzz through the act of discovering these new tools and techniques for the first time.

I also got an unbelievable creative thrill in January when I was up at Port Macquarie and sitting on the beach watching the waves, observing them carefully and then progressively over a number of morning visits working out the best way to paint them. But sadly, finding slow time in a busy life can be hard - when I go out I always seem to be rushing from one place to another  (and when at home sometimes lack inspiration)

And one final comment, which I have mentioned previously. In recent months I have been unable to sit on a sketching stool, to sit out on the streets in the one location for any length of time due to some treatment to my neck and shoulders. I have been limited to a maximum of 20 minutes for any particular sketch and have found that using markers last year, water colour pencils this year have helped me work within this timeframe.

It was really nice that I was able to sketch so much in Melbourne the other week - I wasn't sure how much I would do but those creative juices started pumping again!

I am very much in awe of the people who do elaborate sketches /paintings/drawings which take them hours of time - but even if I wanted to, I am physically unable at the present time to do that. I do want to encourage people who have similar physical restrictions that it is possible to sketch in shorter periods of time.

Writing a LOT tonight... but I do hope that this explains a little more about me. Every single person is a unique individual and your approach to sketching, and your mark making, and your goals will be uniquely YOURS.

What I love about the online art community is how rich is the experience of seeing everyone's personal style ... and especially for those of you that I have been privileged to meet in real life. Meeting and knowing you adds so much more meaning to just seeing your work.

And finally (really and truly finally!) the big message of my blog/flickr/facebook is not to be like me...but that I hope to inspire others to start or continue on their own creative journey - to be themselves!!!! And I hope that they have as much fun as I do!


  1. What a piece you've written! In fact, I could have written the same observation (except for your neck/shoulder issue of course, hope you get well soon). I get the same remarks about my fast drawing, whether it's in sketching, portrait painting or in my professional life as an architect. Thinking with my pencil. It's why I started sketching in the first place (before it was called USK).
    I wanted to sketch as basis for "real paintings", but I never could find the patience to finish a decent real one. The sketch had already recorded what I wanted to record. Thanks for the article!

  2. Brilliant blog Liz,
    Your thoughtfulness & irrepressible energy come right through!
    You inspire, and remind me to find, follow & create my own version of creative bliss.
    Plus I learned some practical stuff too.

    1. Ps,
      I forgot, don't know the details of your neck & shoulder problems, but may I suggest your body is telling you something ... It will keep knocking untill you listen... Kind regards
      No worries Mate!

  3. I love this post thanks for sharing this.

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